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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 25 February 2021
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Payback on Irish minds as they seek to break France hoodoo

Fly-half Caughey putting Olympic dreams on hold with a Six Nations crown to defend.

Nikki Caughey
Nikki Caughey
Image: Craig Thomas/INPHO

IT DOESN’T GET much tougher than this.

France away, it’s become a hoodoo.

Ireland’s women, the reigning Six Nations champions, have never won in France and have only beaten today’s opposition twice in 23 attempts.

Ireland suffered a 10-5 home defeat against their Gallic neighbours last year but still went on to win the competition on points difference after the French suffered a shock defeat to Italy in Badia Polesine, 70km south-west of Venice.

While Ireland have yet to taste success in France, the atmosphere and support levels at the games is something these players desperately covet at home.

That alone is enough to get fly-half Nikki Caughey, who has also represented Ireland in sevens, bouncing around in anticipation ahead of their clash in Perpignan tonight (8pm).

It promises to be a titanic battle after both sides began their campaigns with comfortable wins last weekend.

“The French game is always massive and the whole town gets behind this women’s rugby game,” Caughey explained.

“It is really incredible. If you are playing good rugby you can very easily get the crowd on your side and it can be like playing a home game.

They will support whoever is playing the better rugby.

A heart-breaking 8-7 defeat in the northern edge of the Pyrenees four years still lurks in the memory.

“I was on that 2012 trip to Pau and that atmosphere was one thing I took out of it. It was unbelievable. I am excited to go back. We lost by one point that year. I want a bit of payback this time.”

Caughey has plenty of reasons for optimism at the moment. Coach Tom Tierney has put his faith in the Ulster woman to be his key playmaker despite having the experienced Nora Stapleton available.

She is also trying to put Olympic dreams to the back of her mind and is instead focusing on trying to build fitness after the guts of 18 months on the sidelines with knee, quad and hamstring issues.

Caughey will win just her fifth cap tonight but nerves don’t seem to be an issue for the 23-year-old, especially with the likes of Sene Naoupu, the wife of Connacht number eight George, playing alongside her at inside centre.

Sene Naoupu in action against Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The experienced girls are there to keep your heads right and stuff and you had someone with the class of Sene Naoupu there as well even though she is fairly new too,” Caughey explained.

“To have that class of a player behind you keeping you right makes you relax as well.

“It is almost like having a second playmaker or even a third if you include (full-back and captain) Niamh Briggs as well.

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“You can give them the ball and know they can do something as well. It takes a lot of the pressure off yourself.”

Caughey squirms for diplomacy when asked if she prefers sevens or the 15-a-side code. The decision on which format she plays is out of her hands, and that’s something she’s grateful for.

But the word Olympics ignites a spark in every athlete and Rio clearly gets Caughey excited. But the 15-a-side game was her first love and will remain the priority for now.

“I get told where I am needed or not needed and I go with that,” she said.

“It would have been great to play in Australia or Sao Paolo as well but I’m over the moon to be part of the Six Nations. Maybe it’s easier that the decisions are made for me and I don’t have to do that.

“I am in such a fortunate position in that a lot of the fifteens girls have to go away and back to full-time jobs. They are not getting to practise rugby. I get to go back and train with the sevens.

“The Olympics is a massive dream for any athlete but then if you come from a rugby background and you’ve grown up with a Six Nations and World Cup background then that’s the Olympics of fifteens rugby.”

Now is not the time time for Olympic fantasies, the reality of trying to end their winless streak in France is far more urgent.

Ireland (v France, Saturday, 8pm)

15. Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt)
14. Elise O’Byrne White (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
13. Aine Donnelly (Cill Dara/Leinster)
12. Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht)
11. Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht)
10. Nikki Caughey (Railway Union/Ulster)
9. Larissa Muldoon (Skewen)

1. Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht)
2. Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster)
3. Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
4. Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
5. Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
6. Paula Fitzpatrick (Toulouse)
7. Claire Molloy (Bristol)
8. Heather O’Brien (Toulouse)

Replacements:

16. Zoe Grattage (Tralee/Munster)
17. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster)
18. Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster)
19. Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster)
20. Ciara Griffin (Tralee/Munster)
21. Mary Healy (Galwegians/Connacht)
22. Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
23. Jackie Shiels (Richmond)

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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